Mount Kinabalu is the tallest mountain between New Guinea and the Himalayas and reigns over an astonishing variety of scenery. While the lower reaches of the mountain serve as a botany fanatic’s dream, it is the upper reaches that captured the hearts and imaginations of climbers. Mount Kinabalu is known to be one of the most accessible peak and no specialized mountain climbing skills are required to ascend it. Thousands of tourists visit Kinabalu National Park every year with the intention of reaching the summit (number of visitors at park headquarters now hovers around 200,000 per year).
Most people take 3 days 2 nights to ascend and descend Mount Kinabalu, although it is doable in 2 days 1 night. The 8 kilometers ascend starts from the Timpohon Gate near park headquarters (1800m) at least before 11am, then another estimated 6 hours to reach the rest point Laban Rata (3273m). An overnight stay at one of the guest houses at Laban Rata is required if you intend to see the sun rise at Mount Kinabalu summit – you depart next morning at around 2am and it will take another 3 to 4 hours to reach the summit. Climbers then descend back to Laban Rata for breakfast before making their way down to the park headquarters by mid afternoon.
The distribution of flora on the mountain is a classic example of altitude and temperature-related zonation. From the warm lowland rainforests to the near-freezing alpine conditions at the summit, each zone is characterised by a quite different assemblage of plant species.
The best time to come to Mount Kinabalu is during the dry season from February to April, when walking and climbing is much more enjoyable. The temperature ranges from a comfortable 20-25 degrees Celsius at the main park to something approaching freezing near the top (depending on the weather).
What to Bring
1. Good Boots: Bring boots with good ankle support. Make sure they fit properly and are broken-in enough to ensure they are comfortable, because well-fitting boots can make the difference between an entertaining and a painful trip. Waterproof is a plus. Make sure it has good grip! Do not wear sneakers since they don’t support your ankles like boots do. The number one injury hikers face is twisted or broken ankles especially on during descend.
If packing space permits, pack in an open-toed sandals for your descending trip. It will be easier for the descend trip without pressing your toes against your boots all the time! Use it after Laban Rita and only if the ground is NOT slippery.
2. Water bottle: You can refill it on each shelter along the trail (rain water). I suggest reusing the plastic bottled water bottles; they’re a good size and very lightweight when empty.
3. Torchlight: Head-mounted is ideal for the night climb to the summit, as most of the time you have to hold the rope in the dark.
4. Personal First Aid
- Panadol / Paracetomol
- First aid kit with moleskin and bandages designed to cover blisters
- Sunscreen lotion
- Energy snacks: Trail mix or dried fruits are recommended but anything with high carbohydrate and low sugar will do. Also avoid snacks with a lot of salt as salt makes you thirsty.
- Bug Repellent
5. Plastic Bags: To hold your rubbish / keep clothes dry
6. Spare batteries: For torch light and camera
7. Smaller Bag / Waist Pouch: For the night climb
8. Waterproof jacket / Raincoat
The technical difficulty of the final summit stretch and the temperature at the top came as a surprise to most of the climbers on our trip, and few were prepared. The climb is not considered difficult in good conditions, but can rapidly become treacherous if the weather deteriorates. Mountain weather is notoriously volatile, as is tropical weather, and the two together pose a real threat to the safety of climbers and should never be underestimated. Make sure you have proper clothing prepared for the morning climb.
2 different sets of clothes for the Day climb, and Night climb.
- Warm, lightweight jumper
- Warm, lightweight pants
- Woolen socks
- Beanie/woolen hat
- Gloves: To protect from cold and rope burn
Day Climb: It will usually be warm and sunny during the day climb, so lightweight clothing (t-shirts and Bermudas) is sufficient.
From the store at Laban Rata you can rent the following items:
â€¢ Sleeping Bag @ RM10 each;
â€¢ Jackets @ RM10 each (limited numbers of these);
â€¢ Blanket @ RM10 each;
â€¢ Towels @ RM5 each;
â€¢ Torch lights @ RM15 each (with battery) or RM5 without battery;
Malaysians â€“ Adult RM3, Below 18 RM1
Non-Malaysians â€“ Adult RM15, Below 18 RM10
(Timpohon Gate / Peak / Timpohon Gate)
1-3 Climbers RM70
4-6 Climbers RM74
7-8 Climbers RM80
(Timpohon / Peak / Mesilau Trail)
1-3 Climbers – RM80.00 per trip
4-6 Climbers – RM86.00 per trip
7-8 Climbers – RM92.00 per trip
(Mesilau Trail / Peak / Mesilau Trail)
1-3 Climbers – RM84.00 per trip
4-6 Climbers – RM90.00 per trip
7-8 Climbers – RM100.00 per trip
Climbing permit: This will be checked at both Laban Rata and the Sayat-Sayat hut.
Malaysians: Adult RM30, Below 18 RM12
Non â€“ Malaysians: Adult RM100, Below 18 RM40
Day Climb to Laban Rata
Climbers are issued with permits after paying for their guide, their insurance and their climbing fee. The permit, which is individually numbered with your day of departure, must be carried on the trail for the duration of the climb. Most climbers will start their climbing at 8.00am from Timpohon Gate. After a short registration at the gate, you will be surprised that the short first section of the rough gravel and sand track leads down, not up, across small gully to join the main flank of the mountain, and past the little trickle of Carson’s falls, named after the first Park Warden.
From here the trail rises steadily as a series of rough, uneven steps, right up to the overnight huts at Laban Rata (3,272 meters/10,735 feet). One of the most appealing aspects of the trail is the regular appearance of rest huts every kilometer or so. Each shelter has a toilet and untreated mountain water source to refill your drink bottle.
At a height of about 2600 m. is the region which abounds with pitcher plants. Pitcher plants are carnivorous plants whose prey-trapping mechanism features a deep cavity filled with liquid known as a pitfall trap. Once an insect fell in, it is impossible for them to get out. As they drown and dissolve in the liquid, the nutrients are absorbed by the plant.
The average time taken to reach Laban Rata is about four or five hours.
Laban Rata, the name of the most comfortable hostel on the mountain and also unofficially the name of everybodyâ€™s rest stop for the night, is located at 3272 meters. It has 52 dormitory style bunk beds with a common bathroom, heated showers and room heaters, conveniently located in the same building as the restaurant. It also has two private units the first of which can sleep 4 (2 x twin and 1 x double bed) or 2 (1 double bed). Both the private units have attached bathrooms and heated rooms and showers and is still in the same building.
â€¢ Dormitory bunks @ RM 69 per person per night;
â€¢ 4 pax unit @ RM 300 for the unit per night;
â€¢ 2 pax unit @ RM 180 for the unit per night;
Another 10 minutes walk further up from Laban Rata is the Gunting Lagandan Hut, a second dormitory style accommodation. Featuring 60 beds at RM 46 per person per night, itâ€™s usually the next option when Laban Rata is full. It has basic cooking facilities (as Laban Rata has the only restaurant) and a common bathroom, which now feature hot water. The rooms, however, are still not heated.
Two additional units, further away from Laban Rata than just quick walk, is the Panar Laban Hut and the Waras Hut. Each able to sleep up to 8 people on dormitory style bunk beds, it has basic cooking facilities with common bathrooms. The water is not heated, as are the rooms. The rate is also RM46 per person per night.
The dining room at Laban Rata is quite a pleasant place to unwind from the walk. Tea and coffee is available, as well as a range of soft drinks, alcoholic drinks, chocolate and snacks. There’s also a ‘post office’ where trekkers can write and send postcards from high altitude! Drinks and snacks are more expensive than you’d expect to pay elsewhere in Sabah, but keep in mind that all the supplies at Laban Rata have to be carried up by porters.
Dinner is available from the early evening onwards. A range of four or five dishes is served, buffet-style, and it’s amazing how much food you can eat after expending so much energy during the day. Malaysian and Western dishes are offered, so everyone will be able to find something to satisfy their hunger.
If you are susceptible to mountain sickness, you may feel some headache, nausea, muscle ache and giddiness just before dinner time. You can take some medication to relieve the symptoms before you go to sleep.
In addition to the restaurant, there is also a reception area/check-in for your accommodation, as well as a souvenir/supply shop for if you still donâ€™t have everything you need. Thereâ€™s also limited facilities for excess luggage you deem unnecessary for your final stretch to the summit.
Night Climb to Lowâ€™s Peak
The next phase of climb will begin at about 3.00am, when you are woken for an early breakfast (at least a hot drink is advisable). You do not have to bring your alarm clock, as the noise of other climbers and guides will definitely wake you up. The restaurant is open at that time, but you can have you own hot drinks at your own hostel.
Above Laban Rata, the trail continues as a series of wooden ladders, fashioned out tree roots and branches. This is where a good torchlight is essential – as most of the time you have to hold something for stability, it is best if you have a headlight.
It would take about 1 â€“ 2 hours to reach Sayat-Sayat. This is the highest mountain hut at 3810 meters (12,500 feet). Climbers will have their permits, registrations checked and given a whistle for safety here. This is also the last point to refill water, and to answer natureâ€™s call. Beyond this point, thereâ€™s not even a small bush to hide you doing your natureâ€™s call! You will now head up to the Summit of Mount Kinabalu, Low’s Peak.
The gradient after Sayat-Sayat can become incredibly steep and can be quite tricky and treacherous in parts, there are some places where the trail can be as steep as 70Â° angle! Always stay close to the rope so that you will not get lost.
The actual terrain is flat underfoot, but it is common to see climber bent almost double at the waist to keep their balance. There are parts when you’ll need to grab the rope, which is bolted into the rockface at regular intervals, to help you up short sections. It will take up to an hour and a half to get from Sayat-Sayat to Low’s Peak. Even before you reach the top of Low’s Peak, the views in all directions are incredible – St John’s Peak to the west, the Donkey’s Ears to the east and the distinctive South Peak to the south make up incredible scenery. The view of the surrounding peaks is magnificent. By 6.00am, you will be able to see most of the peak very clearly.
Panoramic Mount Kinabalu
On the way down, don’t run down the summit slabs. Several people break a limb doing this every year, when they get to a bit where it steepens and find that they are unable to stop…
At first, the downhill walk from Low’s Peak is blessed relief to your weary legs. However, as most seasoned trekkers know, it’s often harder to walk downhill for long periods than it is to climb uphill and Mount Kinabalu is no exception. When climbing down, you are exhausted and most of you weight will fall on both of your thighs, knees and the ball of your foot. Be very careful. Most of the accidents happen during the descent.
The descent to Laban Rata will take about two hours and it can be quite dangerous in places. Again, take your guide’s advice about where to walk and how to approach some of the more dangerous steep sections. Take some breakfast at Laban Rata and relax for a while, pack your gear and head on down. Stop and drink water regularly and eat high-energy snacks as it will get warmish on the way down and you need to remain hydrated.
If you start climbing down at 10.00am, you will arrive at Timpohon Gate at about 1.00pm. There will be a bus waiting for you there to pick you up and send you to the Kinabalu Park HQ office where you will register with park authorities that you’ve completed the climb. You can also purchase your certificate (RM10) for climbing the mountain: a colour version for those who reach Low’s Peak, and a black and white version for those who reach Sayat-Sayat.
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